Like History with More Magic and Less Murder
Like History with More Magic and Less Murder - Part 1
It’s October, you know that means, pumpkin spice everything and spookified Twitter handles. Ghosts, ghouls, and goblins take to the streets and depending on where you live there will be hordes of vaguely costumed twenty-somethings freezing outside bars. For all this horror, nothing tops my number one inspiration as a writer and world builder for Open Legend (which you can back right now!) --human history.
Of, course, human history is only matched by the here and the now, but let’s ignore that for a minute to talk about how swords, sorcery, and pointy ears intersect with the past, both personal and national. Fantasy in RPGs and fiction has mined Medieval Europe (and Tolkien) well beyond the point of cliche. Often, these settings feature knights, quests, and serfdom --wait not that last one, except maybe in one game.
Challenge: build a compelling pitch for a serf-centric RPG. Seriously, that’s let’s make it happen. I’ll even design a completely arbitrary award.
My pitch: Serf’s Up is a free form RPG where two or more players try to convince each other to revolt or remain downtrodden. Staging a revolt in your respective fiefdom requires majority support so you can fight for land rights, but ultimately each adventure ends in the demise of all revolting peasants.
That got dark fast. Well, that’s human history for you. That brings us to my main point. Fantasy worlds are a lot like history with more magic and less murder (unless you’re GRRM). And for good reason. You can look to any point in time and find a treasure trove of amazing stories, but these stories seldom feature heroes. Most of the names we remember belong to folks who were equally, smart, lucky, and stubborn, but not always good and often they leave behind huge body counts.
Fiction allows us to hide and secretly teach history, but more importantly it helps craft verisimilitude (often called realism in games criticism). Essentially, how real and true you perceive a thing to be. While I always strive for realistic worlds, it’s worth taking the chance to explore new ideas and trade in some of the darker truths of human history for heroic ideals that we can aspire too instead. Through games and fiction we can reflect on tragedy, but we can build hope too.
When I started the sections on Amaranth, the main city in the Nivenilyan Territoires, and Moondew Watch, the sole human encampment in Amaurea, the history of Seattle stood out as an obvious reference point. In part I wanted to learn more about the city that I had moved to six months ago, but also I wanted to capture my personal history. Moving to Seattle felt like entering an alien world at times, the shift in culture, architecture, and values brought up feelings of isolation and confusion. These turned out to the be the perfect building blocks for creating an advanced elven city where the walkways shift and the spiraling seashell towers rise over a glowing sea.
When an adventurer enters Amaranth, bewilderment and fear will likely be their first reactions, even with a guide. Here the native elves have built a seemingly perfect unified city, where nature’s greatest inventions are infused into the population. This is a city of engineers, if you’re a Seattle native this might sound familiar. The utopia explored here is fueled by a dominating intellectual institute, the Superiori. This institution warps the makeup of Amaranth, for better and for worse. This isn’t so different from the Microsoft boom in the 90s in Seattle or the current growth fueled by Amazon.
While the lives of the Nivenilyan elves are largely free of crime, due to the Directives that override and control their more primal instincts, those who refused were displaced or forcible altered. Now this is where I’ve veered away from history, gentrification replaced with genetic engineering. This is an issue that many players and GMs will explore with House Nivenilya. These elves hunger for bio-engineered perfection, but in doing so have they lost something of themselves?
For Moondew Watch I dove into the founding of Seattle, but I’ll cover that in depth in Part 2 of Like History With More Magic and Less Murder. Check out the Open Legend Kickstarter here to find out more about the world of Amaurea’s Dawn and help us bring this setting into print.
And don’t forget to let me know about your Serf RPGs pitches in the comments!